Council seriously concerned for Traveller family housing

Westmeath County Council has voiced its concerns for three Traveller families in Athlone who are living in day units, designed to support caravans or mobile homes.

Three families at Blackberry Lane, Athlone have disposed of their caravans or mobile homes and are sleeping in the utility rooms of the small units designed to provide basic services such as toilet, kitchen, and utility space at the halting site.

Speaking after Wednesday’s Housing SPC at Westmeath County Council Roibeard O’Ceallaigh said the council is working to resolve the situation with the families and the Department.

“Any situation like that isn’t satisfactory,” he said, but declined to comment any further on the individual cases. “But it’s something we’re taking very seriously,” he said.

There are also three empty bays at Blackberry Lane, but Mr O’Ceallaigh said this is par for the course where families move in and out of temporary accommodation.

The recent housing needs assessment for the travelling community in Westmeath showed no Travellers who wanted to move to halting sites.

However, three families wish to move from bays to more permanent accommodation and that wish is reflected in the draft plan, and Mr O’Ceallaigh said what is available to the council is likely to match their housing need.

The Draft Traveller Accommodation Programme for Westmeath must be adopted by the end of April next year and will run for five years.

There is a statutory responsibility on the council to provide accommodation fit for purpose in consultation with Travellers and their representatives and eliminate illegal encampments.

The council has a responsibility to provide accommodation to Travellers identified in the needs assessment as well as new Travellers who come to the county during the lifetime of the plan.

However, they will not assist families who deprive themselves of adequate accommodation, are involved in serious or ongoing feuds, or if housing them would compromise good estate management in an area.

The annual count undertaken in 2012 shows that 111 Traveller families are in standard local authority housing, but the number acquiring their own housing or availing of the RAS scheme of private rented accommodation is increasing and now stands at 132.

Just 29 families remain at halting sites and 21 are in transient sites, numbers which Mr O’Ceallaigh says are fairly constant.

There are 342 Traveller families in the county, up on 256 in 2009.

The current plan expires at the end of this year, and Westmeath County Council’s SEO Roibeárd O’Ceallaigh said the council has achieved its aims of providing around seven units for Traveller families each year.

This forms the basis for the programme to 2018, with 35 units proposed for that period.

Details of the plan are available on the council’s website.


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